PEOPLE who have booked ski holidays are nervously checking every day to see if their Aer Lingus ticket to the piste has been cancelled. Last Wednesday, 14 Aer Lingus flights were cancelled due to industrial action by the airline's cabin crew. But why?

Aer Lingus' passenger numbers and revenues have fallen sharply in recent years as the recession takes its toll on tourism. The company, under the direction of Christoph Mueller, is restructuring its commercial operations and cutting costs severely. The airline and the trade unions, through arbitration, codified how the cost reductions would be implemented. An agreement was reached, called 'Greenfield', and a company statement issued last year said: "The 'Greenfield' Cost Reduction Programme is now under way following a 74% positive staff ballot supporting the proposals".

The company contends that new rostering arrangements for cabin crew were agreed as part of the binding arbitration agreement. The cabin crew, represented by trade union Impact, contend that the new rosters go above and beyond what was agreed at arbitration, and further, have advised cabin crew to revert to pre-existing rosters.

Aer Lingus has threatened any employee refusing to operate under the new rosters with disciplinary action. Impact contends: "Impact cabin crew resolve to take industrial action commencing with a work-to-rule (within contract), but up to and including strike action because of Aer Lingus's deliberate breach of contract, agreements and the black book (rostering) rules." A strike may now follow, meaning more flight cancellations.

It is understood Aer Lingus has in fact commenced the disciplinary process and, as of last Wednesday, almost 200 employees have been removed from the payroll. The airline's position is that the new rosters are contractual and thus obligatory. Whether the new rosters do in fact go beyond the arbitration agreement is a matter for the courts to decide. This debacle is not how the airline planned to celebrate its 75th birthday.

Oisín Scollard is a Barrister with Employment Law Firm, twitter: @oscollard